In August 2014 I read Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures and Simon Reynolds Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its Own Past, back-to-back and was tremendously inspired, finding all manner of cultural memories stirring and being re-fashioned at a rapid rate. I had just got some simple video software having decided it was way past time to get some footage of my lectures online. Whilst tinkering about with it a most satisfying creative process followed that allowed me to express something of what I termed a Hauntological Reverie.
I sat with the result for some time. When writing what became my Glastonbury Psychogeography in 2016, the initial intention was to include some material on Hauntology that could also serve as an accompanying piece to the video. By this time I had adopted the strategy of back-engineering books in order to launch them at conferences and lectures and ran out of time so that little section was never completed. I have now felt the need to finish what I started.
Hauntology bears some comparison with Psychogeography inasmuch as, firstly, they are both terms that originated in France but were then significantly re-visioned in Britain. The term was used by French post-modernist theorist Jacques Derrida in his 1994 book Spectres of Marx. It arose from the context of a time when Soviet Russia had dissolved and it was being proclaimed that communism had died. The American Francis Fukuyama had recently written The End of History, a widely publicised supremely contentious assertion that liberal capitalism had now definitively triumphed as it was the unchallengeable best way to make the world work. Derrida wrote of how Marx somehow persisted as both a presence and absence thus creating for him a strange status that required a new way of thinking to accommodate.
Once the concept was established it soon becomes clear that ‘persistence through memory that is mutated through absence’ is a theme that can be remarkably wide-ranging and fruitful. The absence of a future we once felt might happen leads to widespread cultural retrospectives. Some have argued that the majority of our culture now consists of cycles of Retro and rehash, mash-ups and genre blending. This can all be studied as a unity within the concept of Hauntology. We are remaking our memories and aspirations. When this becomes conscious and deliberate we have a new force in culture. Nostalgia becomes creative.
One of the most powerful forms of such experimentation can come through music. Some artists are deliberately using old recording technology and instruments, incorporating fragments of old TV series, movies, advertisements and so on, to create a mutated memory. It was hearing some of this music that inspired my Hauntological video foray.
The philosophy and methodology of the Ghost Box label was immensely inspiring to me. The name itself is an evocative reference to television sets and their peculiar powers. They describe themselves on their website as ‘a record label for a group of artists exploring the misremembered musical history of a parallel world. A world of TV soundtracks, vintage electronics, folk song, psychedelia, ghostly pop, supernatural stories, and folklore.’’
Running through all this is the potent enchantment of a kind of false memory, a nostalgia for a past that has been wrongly remembered and also yearned for, even when aspects of it are disturbing. A re-visioning and re-inventing of the past is the great creative endeavour. Somewhere in all this I sense a feeling that the landscape and the memory dream that hangs in the airwaves through dreams and the moods of particular locales somehow involves itself in that endeavour, that something wants this adjustment in favour of a mysterious emotional nuance to occur.
Co-owner, composer and producer Jim Jupp stated that their nostalgia focus is “a particular period of time in British history–more or less 1958-1978. All this might be tied up with a special kind of national identity, nothing at all to do with jingoism, flags, sports, borders, anthems.” Having been born in 1959 and made my first visit to the Stonehenge and Glastonbury Festivals in 1979 to then watch the John Mills dystopian Quatermass, an apparent expression of the dark side of the dream in the early months of the Thatcher era, this lands very strongly with me.
The founders of Ghost Box Jim Jupp and Julian House grew up in South Wales. As teenagers they frequented Caerleon-on-Usk, a potent location full of history and mythology. It was also the birthplace of Arthur Machen, cult horror writer best known for The Great God Pan, an influence on HP Lovecraft. Machen eloquently evoked a compelling, haunted, often dangerous, landscape. This influence permeates Ghost Box as does much other horror from both literature and movies. Some Ghost Box offerings feature the spoken word or have written texts accompanying their packaging, ranging from short stories to seventies mock-up documentary items.
Perhaps the most over-riding meta-nostalgia that unites the disparate material is a lost utopianism. The sixties saw the building in Britain of new housing estates and shopping centres, of high-rise blocks of flats, as a part of a huge programme to make good sites still bomb damaged from the war and replace homes considered to be slums. It seemed part of a vast social transformation that had begun with the welfare state and would assuredly make a better world that the TV shows and comics I consumed portrayed as a gleaming high-tec paradise where flying cars and moon bases would be sure to follow.
Of course this promise was not fulfilled. The seventies ultimately seem in retrospect to have been a grim strange decade. Things got dystopian at a rapid rate. The new estates and tower blocks destroyed communities and bred alienation, soon seeming to be slums as well. It was the landscape that provided a strange counter-expression of the times
I have long felt that occultism, UFOlogy and Earth Mysteries, folklore and the hippie mysticism of leylines and so on were part of one spectrum and I was enthralled by the controversial research John Keel and Jacques Vallee who produced great work son this unity. In this video I playfully express that unity with a nod to the importance of the rock music of the time in helping this feeling with glimpses of Glastonbury Fayre and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page in a fantasy sequence form the band’s The Song Remains the Same movie filmed in the grounds of Aleister Crowley’s old home on the shores of Loch Ness. I had got plenty of mileage from investigating the Crowley Loch Ness interface in my book Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus and my first filmed lecture was drawn from this in September 2014.
This is my lost future, sourced from UK material. I wanted the dynamism of this extraordinary blend to literally transform our sense of reality. It is grasped by the psychic prodigies the Tomorrow People, a British kids TV X Men. Evolutionary mutants will interact with the great mystery, safeguard us from its possible hazards, and eventually the whole human race will follow. Perhaps help from external sources is available as well. Dr Who feeds that
And those hazards There’s an edginess concerning what is really being confronted and where that might lead. Ancient devils might be the masks of malevolent aliens. Perhaps our potential is just being harvested and our ley pilgrimages to ancient sites will end like the 1979 Quatermas story with absorption into a beam of light that represents annihilation rather than ascension and redemption. This is our collective test of fear and resolve. A confrontation with a Dweller on the Threshold. It’s a selective variant version of a past that haunts my present, still seeking to transform the future.
I had a distinctive personal immersion in Hauntological themes when writing my book The Glastonbury Zodiac and Earth Mysteries UFOlogy. The centre of gravity of the work concerned the previously unpublished 1969 UFO experience of author Anthony Roberts and his wife Jan. It led to a download that set Roberts off on a wild writing process dealing with ancient astronaut theories filtered through pulp science fiction and fantasy. As a Glastonbury enthusiast he was enamoured of the belief in the existence of a huge landscape zodiac shaped from a mix of topographical features. A popular idea in the sixties and seventies, it had no archaeology to back it up. Roberts took proposed dating back thousands of years and claimed it was an Atlantean relic created with help from ETS. However crazy this might sound, I have long felt a peculiar beauty and potency, a certain poetry in this kind of blend. It was the very epitome of British psychedelic Earth Mysteries UFOlogy.
The enormous manuscript that resulted, provisionally entitled Giants in the Earth, was never finished. In 2013 I became the first person outside of the Roberts household to read it in 40 years, Tony having died in 1990. Looking into the work and the influences it drew on made me realise that the inspiration of Earth Mysteries UFOlogy on the development of Glastonbury as modern mystical capital of Britain was far stronger than many might realise. It undoubtedly lay behind Robert’s creation and editing of the mid-seventies anthology Glastonbury: Ancient Avalon, New Jerusalem, perhaps the most widely circulated work on the mystical aspects of the place in terms of ley lines, terrestrial zodiacs, and so on.
I wondered what it would have been like if the book had been completed and published in 1971 when the initial writing inspiration abated? It could have sat alongside a large number of pulp paperbacks of the time and become part of a certain climate of thought. The ideas it contained would have become part of the fabric of seventies Glastonbury as shops like Gothic Image opened and began to establish the emerging modern identity of the town. Roberts was quite closely associated with the shop and if his book had been published it would assuredly have been on sale there alongside the anthology and found its way out as part of an expression of the blend of the time. I had a sense of a cover that would contain visual aspects of the ancient astronaut paperback art of the time. I even entertained the wild idea of publishing it. I knew that Yuri Leitch, who has been responsible for the cover art I have designed for my books could produce a superb homage in that style, perhaps featuring a classic Adamski Flying Saucer above Glastonbury Tor? Pages from the text were scanned. It would be a colossal task involving huge editing. It would cost a lot of money. In standard paperback size it would run to around 500 pages. The number of sales would be extremely limited. I ran out of money and it never happened.
My interest in Hauntology helped me to realise that this episode featured many familiar themes. The existence of this text in a kind of hyperspace represented an enhancement of an existing cultural trend. Glastonbury has had its share of UFO and Atlantean enthusiasts. This work though, by a man who was a passionate Avalonian, who had actually died of a heart attack on Glastonbury Tor, was the direct result of a UFO experience at the end of the mythic sixties. If this combination had rippled out into the headspace of Glastonbury pilgrims who might have bought the book in Gothic Image in the seventies and into the eighties then an infinite number of adjusted nuances were possible. This was a tantalising lost future that was not just an imaginative recreation. The text was real and inspired by something perplexing. All of this is part of the alchemy that led to me wanting to create my Hauntological Reverie video.
Immersed in the work as I was, and launching my book at the always cosmically expansive Glastonbury Symposium in July 2015, I felt that something of those nuances were strongly active in me and, even though I had not managed to publish the original text, I was helping that buried dreamlike current to break the surface. It was an uncanny feeling and helped along by my repeated listening to the 1976 prog-rock instrumental album In Search of Ancient Gods by Absolute Elsewhere during the writing of the book. I’d still like to see a 1971 retro version of Tony Roberts Giants in the Earth manifest and in doing so lead us to feel it had always been here somehow since that date.
As for my video, A Pilgrims Path from the album The Belbury Tales by Belbury Poly (a Ghost Box Jim Jupp project) really evoked the blend for me that had stirred in my readings and reveries. Images I rapidly gathered seemed to easily cohere with it. The name Belbury was taken from a fictional location featured in the CS Lewis novel That Hideous Strength, a work stuffed to bursting point with many of the coming decades’ motifs in terms of awakening landscape mysticism and opposing dark forces that constitute a kind of techno-demonism. I know the video is very much an amateur production but I hope it is enjoyable and conveys at least a little something of the feelings that inspired it.